About Fogdog's Weight Loss

Don't Focus on the Goal...

If you've followed this blog you know that I've struggled for many years with improving my health. I've finally reached a point where I've managed to maintain a small amount of success. Now it's time to take the next step, but I believe it requires a new way of thinking.

Instead of trying to get healthy, why not shift focus toward learning how to build healthy habits instead. Follow me as I try to teach myself how to Engineer healthy habits that will allow me to take my health to the next level. Let's see where this experiment goes!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Day #87 - My "Cheat Day" Perspective

Today I read a great blog post from Richard over at "Health Journey" (You can go see the actual  post HERE).   Richard indicated that he has a hard time with “cheat days” as well as comments people make about “being too hard on yourself”. 

I agree with Richard in one of those areas, sometimes I think people are quick to say “Don’t beat yourself up too much” to others.  If we are talking about someone who’s going on and on because they gave in and ate 1 Hershey Kiss at lunch time, then yes that person probably shouldn’t be beating themselves up.  But if you decided to eat half a pig because the moon was full then you should probably beat yourself up a little.  Accept responsibility, learn from it, and move forward.  It doesn’t mean you have to flog yourself for two weeks, but you should probably feel a little shame.  Hold yourself accountable at an appropriate level to the infraction.

Now on the “cheat days” I disagree (sort of).  For starters I hate the term “cheat day” because it automatically denotes doing something you shouldn’t do.  I use the term “unrestricted day”.  Call it what you want, what we’re talking about here is a day where you can eat whatever you want.  I’m a big fan of the unrestricted day and I have one every week.

One of the biggest struggles people have with losing weight is the feeling or restriction.  Right or wrong we have foods that we simply love to eat.  When you restrict your diet to lose weight there are some things that you simply will not be able to eat on a regular basis.  Cut them out forever and you begin to feel deprived.  Feel deprived of something and now you just want it more!  The only way to prevent that feeling is to allow that food in moderation. 

Most of us trying to lose weight suck at moderation (duh) so having a rule that helps with moderation only makes sense.  I absolutely love a toasted everything bagel with peanut butter.  I eat two on every one of my unrestricted days and because of that I’m perfectly fine eating oatmeal and hard boiled eggs the other six days of the week.  Does that sound like a reasonable compromise to you?

Now having said all that I do think the devil is in the details.  If Richard is referring to people who just announce “I decided to have a cheat day because I was totally stressed out and deserved a treat” then I agree with him that cheat days aren’t helping that person get healthy.  However , with just a few simple rules to govern the day, you can turn it into something that’s quite helpful.  Here are my rules about “unrestricted days”:

  1. I choose the day ahead of time; it does not choose me.  Most of the time I have my unrestricted day on Sunday.  We tend to do a lot of hiking or going on family trips so often we’ll end up packing sandwiches (I don’t eat processed grains during the week) or go out at lunch or dinner time.  On occasion we will proactively move it to Saturday if we’ve got a good reason (Child’s birthday party, Travel day, Visitors).  The most important point though is that we never change on the day.  If I’m driving by 5 Guys on Thursday and feeling like a big burger with fries; I can’t simply call it my cheat day and stop in.
  2. It is not a reward for “good” behavior.  I get my unrestricted day regardless of how I did the rest of the week.  It is not a reward for good behavior and it cannot be taken away for bad behavior either.  Don’t reward or deny yourself with food.  My unrestricted day is not a reward, it is a choice that’s part of my overall weight loss plan.
  3. Unrestricted does not equal “guilt free”; I’m still accountable for the choices I make.  During the week my choices are restricted somewhat.  On my unrestricted day my choices are not restricted but I’m still accountable for what I do.  If I treat it like a “get out of jail free” card, then am I really committed to my plan?  Having this day doesn’t allow me to shed my responsibilities to myself it just gives me some freedom around the choices I make
Now I’m not going to lie and say that none of my unrestricted days ever went too far.  I’ve had a few free-for-alls that would rival anyone else’s binge stories.  But I’ve also fallen off the wagon on my other “normal” days.  A failure is a failure regardless of what day it happened on; the unrestricted day didn’t cause that failure, I did.  I’ve also had unrestricted days were I had less calories than a “normal” day; most of the time I still just have normal meals, but usually they contain things that might otherwise be out of bounds.  I usually have a dessert as well; my oldest daughter loves to bake so she usually makes us a special treat for that day. 

The unrestricted day is not a license to eat, but rather a tool to help you eat in moderation.  It has worked wonders for me, especially with deferring gratification (another problem we fat people sometimes have).  If I’m craving a big ole Sausage sandwich with peppers and onions I’ll tell myself that If I’m still craving it at the end of the week I’ll have it then.  A lot of times that craving goes away and by the time Sunday rolls around I don’t even care about it anymore.

This is just my opinion and maybe this process doesn’t work for everyone, but my most successful attempts have allowed for this type of weekly deviation.  Just like every other part of your healthy living journey, your plan has to be something you can live with.  If you are someone who constantly pigs out on your cheat day or you have multiple cheat days then maybe this doesn’t work for you.

Lastly, I want to say thanks to Richard for bringing up this topic and I encourage others to submit a post about it on their blogs.  It’s nice that we can share multiple points of view on a topic; that’s what makes this community strong.  What do you think?

Stay Strong!

[Photo: Flickr / trec_lit   ]


  1. Gretchen Rubin writes a lot about different personality types on her blog (she writes books about happiness and, just out, habits) and how different things work for different people. She is an abstainer who finds it easier to give up something entirely, but says many others are moderators who find it easier to have a bit of what they fancy every now and then so they don't feel deprived. So she suggests you need to work out what works for you, not what works for someone else.

    I don't like the term cheat either. It's not cheating if it's planned. I prefer treat, or indulgence.

    There is a football team near me called The Cheeters, after the animal, but how can you hear that without thinking The Cheaters? Worst name ever.

  2. I totally agree with you about beating ourselves up - sometimes we need to do it but it needs to be in proportion with the offense. Shame can be useful if used appropriately.

  3. I think that what you wrote makes perfect sense but unfortunately for me it doesn't work. Maybe at some point it will. At this point, an unrestricted day is too stressful for me because I feel it would completely throw me off and I'm not willing to find out ;)
    Great post and link, thanks for sharing!

  4. Whatever lifestyle each of us chooses it has to be 'do-able'. For me the last seven years has been LCHF. That is:

    I eat low carbs (no more than 50 a day)
    I eat high (healthy) fats
    I eat moderate protein.
    I also exercise
    I also try to keep a good sleep pattern

    It is all about getting the balance that is right for you.

    Eat whole fresh foods, stay away from processed.

    Be true to yourself.

    Have a great Easter Weekend

    All the best Jan

  5. I've cobbled together what **I** think are the best suggestions from many different plans - & while I like a great deal of what Tim Ferriss advocates in "4 Hr Body"**, I have to keep it to occasional off-plan MEAL vs his unrestrained "cheat day"... I'd wipe out every bit of progress I make each week w/a full DAY.
    **monotonous meals, limited carbs, high-efficiency exercises, some supplements have also been helpful

  6. Great post FD and thanks for linking to my post.

    I don't like "cheat" either, however, it's the term I read all over so I just use it. I do prefer "unrestricted" or as Natalie suggested "treat" or "indulgence".

    When I'm talking about "cheat day" I was not thinking about days that are schedule unrestricted days. I was talking about those un-planed day when we let temptation creep in and then hey it's not going to be a good day so may as well enjoy it and get out of control.

    This being said doesn't mean I will promote unrestricted days. Even if one of my daughter lost 100 pounds 3 years ago and she had unrestricted days and it worked for her. I don't need that for myself. As soon time permit, I'll post back about this subjects.

    The main thing is to be honest, there is not one and only one good strategy for every one.